This From the Vault article was originally published on CLOmedia in October 2011.
A recent Forbes article titled “Are You Wasting Money on Management Training?” questioned the practice of organizations spending money on learning programs without measurable business impact. But with the right training approach, organizations can get a significant return on their learning investments that are in line with other investments.
So how do leaders of learning functions ensure that what they do will produce results? There’s a systematic approach for CLOs fighting to justify training’s value within their organizations.
Creating the Right Enterprise Learning Strategy
Learning investments require long-term focus. A winning strategic learning plan must include the identification, design, prediction of value, development, deployment and evaluation of effective curricula. When building an enterprise learning plan, use the following methodology:
- Review your company’s competency assessment data for the target audience(s) and identify trends. If you don’t have competencies or assessment data, create them.
- Interview a cross-section of key executive and subject matter experts to outline the ideal requirements for “master performers” in your target audience(s).
- Identify gaps between the current skill levels and needed performance levels.
- Review your company’s strategic plan and HR strategy. Determine your target population’s future role and how they’ll get there.
- Develop the enterprise learning plan outlining the training required to get the target population to current ideal state, and prepare them for their future role. The strategy provides a three- to five-year roadmap for the identification, design, development, deployment and evaluation of the curriculum.
This frames the curriculum in the broadest strategic context, then guides curriculum designers in drilling down to the most discrete curricular component.
To determine the proper analysis of current and future state, ask: What are the tenets that our learning strategy needs to focus on? These are the principles we believe are true for this population. For a given company, the middle management tenets could be:
- Individual leaders’ effectiveness (about me as a leader).
- Leading effective teams (about the team).
- Leading effective organizations (about the business).
Next, the leadership competencies are aligned with the appropriate tenet(s) — in some cases a competency supported multiple tenets. In those cases, primary and secondary tenets are identified.
Perform an environmental scan, examining the context in which learning will be implemented.
To do this, consider:
- Maturity of current learning efforts.
- Time available (away from the job) to learn.
- Infrastructure (IT) capabilities — when e-learning is being considered.
- Senior management support.
Using data from the current and future state analysis, tenets, competencies and the environmental scan, determine the best delivery strategy. In one example, middle managers might meet twice a year at a leadership conference, are “task saturated” (too much to do), are eager for leadership training, show capability to learn via alternate delivery, and the firm’s LMS might be a few months away from going live. Finally, their president might be a strong supporter of the effort and championed the initiative.
This might lead to the following strategic decisions:
- The company would annually support one two-day, classroom-based workshop plus one leadership conference. A second workshop could be added, budget permitting.
- Workshops would be heavy application (practice) oriented preceded by an e-learning course providing basic content.
- Workshops would be large-scale events — 100 people per workshop using a “table coach” design, where five to six students are paired with coaches to guide the learning. Coaches are a mix of external facilitators and selected internal employees.
- Based upon the needs and gap analysis, the firm decided the workshop and e-learning course would be custom-designed (vs. off-the-shelf training). After examining its internal capability, the firm chose to outsource the design, development and delivery.
- Based upon senior executive and HR interviews, the first year’s tenet and corresponding course were identified. They selected a steering committee of senior leaders to decide what the subsequent year’s tenet and course would be. This process is repeated annually for the life of the learning strategy.
- Courses from previous years would be used to prepare high-potential talent to move in.
The strategy is to build out the curriculum over a five-year period.
Governing the Enterprise Learning Strategy
Strategies and their implementation need care and feeding. An enterprise learning strategy is no different. To govern the strategy and keep it evergreen, implement the following activities:
- A senior executive champions the strategy and leadership development initiative.
- Human resources “owns” the strategy development and its annual implementation.
- The steering committee meets annually to determine the focus for the upcoming year (tenet and course(s)).
- For each new course, a vice president-level executive owns that program and charters a committee to oversee the design, development, delivery and transfer to the job. The assignment rotates among senior staff.
Learning is an economic elixir. It makes people and organizations more adaptable, responsive and nimble. It serves as the bedrock for innovation, as it’s impossible to innovate without learning something new. It’s the foundation for extraordinary customer service, employee attraction, retention and development, and is the fuel for profitable growth. It can shape culture. And when it’s done right, it’s one of those rarest opportunities — where employers’ and employees’ needs are in perfect harmony. In the vast majority of cases, it offers significant benefits for both.
Learning investments require a long-term focus and an ability to balance the tradeoffs between profits today for greater returns in the future. In short, having the right learning strategy will increase an organization’s ability to create value.
Dave Basarab is a senior learning executive and the founder of Dave Basarab Consulting. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.
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